I’ve had crying kids lost in stores cling to my hand, children at Mass giggle at me over Mommy’s shoulder, and every once in awhile a child in a crowd spontaneously comes up and hugs me.
Kids love me. I love children.
And quite honestly, I thought I would have children by now.
As a child and teenager I dreamed of being a mother. I wanted one of those wonderfully domestic scenes of a large dinner table with a lazy Susan in the middle with hands of all kinds reaching in – boys and girls, biological and adopted children, foster children, and even foreign exchange students. I babysat all the time. When it came to choosing a career I knew I wanted to be a teacher—the perfect career for a woman who wanted to have a family.
Somewhere along the line I shed that dream.
At times it was a conscious decision; other times not. I think I just gave it up as it became apparent that the dream wasn’t going to happen. Part of me reasoned that it was pointless to dream of kids without my husband in the picture — a kind of putting the cart before the horse.
Two decades have sped by and I find that thousands of children have sat at desks in front of me in my classroom, but none sit at my dining room table.
Last spring, in the middle of Lent, I turned 40. Forty, single and childless. The desert of Lent seemed fitting, and, yet, I wasn’t depressed about it. I wrote about it on CatholicMatch with hope and youthfulness.
During the course of that Lent, God showed me how He had fulfilled so much of my dream through the thousands of students I had taught over the course of 18 years of teaching in Catholic schools. He would not have given me that gift if I had had my own household brood.
Still, I miss family life and I do not like living alone. No more transient roommates for me, as they are not at all the same as family who grow together. My next roommate will be my husband.
In May I learned that I was the victim of the budget cuts at my school. For the first time since I was 5 I would not be preparing for a school year. No more kids. And no prospect for a husband in sight.
Who knows if I am even able to have children – now or ever.
Still, many of the single men I encounter have high on their list the need to have biological children. When I see that requirement on their profiles or hear them speak eagerly about opportunities to play catch with a little boy and dance with a little girl of their own, my heart breaks a little. I guess I really don’t believe anymore that I will be part of that picture.
I don’t want to be the reason that a man doesn’t fulfill his dreams. Nor do I want to be desired or loved for my supposed fertility. Where does it leave me if we marry and it turns out that we don’t have children? How do I live with the idea of disappointing him in his most fundamental desire to have a child? Will he love me for me, with or without children?
Forty, single and childless. Sometimes it feels like I haven’t lived, that I’m still a little girl waiting for life to happen. At other times I feel like the excitement of life is in the past, that my opportunities have passed.
But that isn’t reality. We’ve been lied to; we’ve been convinced that all happiness is found only through having a traditional family.
Life is full of variety. There isn’t a set timeline and way life is supposed to happen.
The women of the Bible remind me of this truth. Sarah and Elizabeth were thought to be past the age of child bearing. Deborah was a mighty leader as a judge. Esther was a humble queen.
And Mary, Our Blessed Mother, certainly does not fit the plastic mold of the world’s ideas of womanhood. To be honest, I get jealous of Mary at times, being blessed to be a young mother. Then she reminds me that it wasn’t all diapers and birthday parties.
Far from it.
But she, and the other Biblical women, remind me that God has unique plans for us, and that His ways are far above our ways. Maybe His way includes me being a mother or step-mother someday. Or maybe He is fulfilling that through my former students and my godchildren and nieces. Maybe He has a whole new more glorious plan in mind. With God all things are possible.